You Listen To What?

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My taste in music is nothing short of eclectic as I’ll listen to just about anything as long as its good. Like everyone else I have my favorite artists, but there are some names that evoke a few raised eyebrows.  The inevitable question, “You listen to what?” usually follows those contorted brows.  It’s as if I’m not “allowed” to listen to certain types of music because I don’t fit the profile.  To this I say, there is no such thing as boundaries when it comes to enjoying music.  Nerds can love Top 40 bands and happy-go-lucky writers can dig reggae rap.

More than once I’ve written of my love for British artists, indie rock, and NuFolk, but my music collection reaches far beyond those categories.  Here’s a  list of 10 artists I love, despite the glaring disparities in personality.  It just goes to show that music truly does speak across all realms of humanity.

Note: I’ve linked each artist to a site where its possible to listen to samples of their music.  With exception to #9, all links will connect to my favorite album.  Enjoy!

1. Michael Franti & Spearhead

Equal parts rap, reggae, pop, R&B, and rock, Franti is a remarkable songwriter and performer.  His lyrics cry for social justice, peace, and political change with the stomp of a fierce beat.  He’s lightened up a little over the last few years, but he’s never given up his vision for a world without war and corruption.

Favorite Songs: “Everybody Ona Move” and “Life in the City”

Favorite Albums: All Rebel Rockers, Yell Fire, and Everyone Deserves Music.

2. Moby

Okay, so he’s a little weird and very bald,  but he makes some the of the best atmospheric electronica.  He thumbs his nose at convention and does his own thing, which is what I like best about his music.  Tones range from dance floor beats to ethereal synthesizers paired with piano and voice.

Favorite Song: “We Are All Made of Stars”

Favorite Albums: Go – The Very Best of Moby and 18

3. Linkin Park

I love this band because they exude raw emotion and hold nothing back.  No two albums sound alike and I like being surprised every time they come out with something new.  The last album in particular was a stark departure, but in my opinion its their best to date.

Favorite Song: “Waiting For The End”

Favorite Album: A Thousand Suns

4. Muse

It took me a while to catch onto this band, but once I did I never looked back.  Their sound is a cool fusion of hard rock and symphonic melody.  The lead singer has a unique voice that breathes incredible life into clever, bold, and brutally honest lyrics.

Favorite Song: “Starlight”

Favorite Album: Black Holes & Revelations

5. Thievery Corporation

This band found its way into my collection by way of a gift from a good friend.  Their vibe is a combination of soft jazz and electronica with a touch of middle eastern beats.  I’ve never heard anything like it, which makes every song an adventure.

Favorite Song:  “Holographic Universe”

Favorite Album: It Takes A Thief 

6. Mika

My love of Mika defies all logic, but I am hopelessly addicted to his dance beat and fun lyrics.  They guy just sounds like he’s having a blast and his energy is infectious.  Whenever I’m dragging in the middle of a run, Mika gives me a great jolt.

Favorite Song: “Love Today”

Favorite Album: Life in Cartoon Motion

7. Phil Coulter

My grandparents are at fault for my love of new age piano music.  Every night they would play a Phil Coulter album to help me sleep.  It never worked because I was always mesmerized by intricate piano notes and the beautiful flow of music.  Twenty years later, I still listen to him for the same reasons and actively seek out similar artists.

Favorite Song: “Oft’ In The  Stilly Night”

Favorite Album: Sea of Tranquility

8. Twelve Girls Band

Blame public television and my trip to China for bringing this powerhouse orchestra into my collection.  These ladies use traditional Chinese instruments to fuse Western standards with Eastern folk, thus creating something entirely new.  Their music is full of energy, life, and sheer emotion.

Favorite Songs: “Freedom” and “Jasmin”

Favorite Albums:  Shining Energy and Eastern Energy

9. Herb Albert & The Tijuana Brass

Try hard not to laugh.  When I was growing up, Herb Albert was played almost daily at my grandparents house during the summer.  Those brass horns and peppy tunes always made me smile and they still do today.

Favorite Album: Greatest Hits 

10. Vladimir Horowitz

No one can play Chopin (or anything else for that matter) with the same passion and skill as Horowitz.  I literally get lost in the music when I listen to any one of his performances.  It’s no wonder he’s often referred to as the best concert pianist of the 20th century.

Favorite Song or Album: There are no favorites when it comes to Horowitz.  Every note is pure genius.  However, one album in particular sticks out in my mind, Horowitz: The Last Recording.

I’ve always seen music as a soundtrack for my life, so it makes sense to choose music from all different genres to make things more interesting and meaningful.

c.b. 2011

The Notebook That Built My Novel

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When I first got the notion to write a novel, the most daunting part was getting started.  I had the inspiration, a basic story idea, and a main character, but I realized very quickly none of my ideas mattered unless there was a system in place to give them room to grow.  A journal wasn’t big enough for the job and a laptop didn’t offer the tactile experience I needed to connect to my ideas.  What I ended up creating was The Big Notebook.

I went out and bought the largest spiral notebook I could find along with a set of highlighters, my favorite blue pens, a pair of scissors, and a glue stick.  Then I collected catalogs, magazines, and newspapers from around the house.  With these tools, I could start the mad process of brainstorming or what I like to call “extreme outlining.”  The only rule was anything goes if it has even a remote chance of fitting in with the basic inspiration for the story.

Now, I am an extremely organized person who is well known for color-coding and alphabetizing everything.  Initially, I was going to divide the notebook into specific sections for different categories of information, but that plan fell apart almost instantly. Ideas don’t present themselves in any particular order in my head, so it made more sense to let the notebook come together with a more holistic approach.  In effect, I made a giant mess that defied all organizational logic, but at least the ideas were no longer just floating in my head.

Elements of the mess were then classified into a set of categories I’ve listed below. Underneath each category is a brief summary of what I collected and/or scribbled on random pages.  To keep it all straight, I used a system of highlighter color-coding and symbols.

Characters

  • Character cards. Every character got a card that included ideas for names, mini-bios, age, physical traits, quirks, goals, fatal flaws, and saving graces.  As the plot evolved, I continued to add information about their roles in the story.
  • Wardrobe pages.  I went through magazines, catalogs, and clothing store ads to look for clothes my characters might wear.  I cut out an entire wardrobe for all the main characters and pasted it into the notebook.  Each character got a spread and it really helped shape their personalities in a visual sense.

Above: Part of the main character’s wardrobe spread.

  • Personal belongings pages.  Every character has special objects that belong to them – things that define them as individuals.  Through brainstorming I knew what these items were, but I still wanted a strong visual that gave specifics. In the case of the main character, I needed an old camera.  Image searches online, plus a little reading allowed me to track down the perfect camera and a picture to paste in my notebook.

Story

  • I did a lot of free writing to loosen up my imagination, which lead to endless streams of brainstorm bulleting.  If an idea popped into my head, I wrote it down.  The handwriting is atrocious and some thoughts wind all the way around the margins.  Less than half of my rambling was actually used, but the process itself got me to the core of the story.  The brainstorming aspect of writing is probably my favorite step of the process.  Out of all the categories, this one takes up the most space!
  • Sometimes I’d wake up at night with full paragraphs streaming out of my head, so there are multiple pages of complete passages, (many of which have made it to final draft!).

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How Music Helped Me Write A Novel

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When I set out to write my novel, I had only a vague picture of my main character, Noah.  I could see him and I knew most of his story, but the stuff that hides deep inside a person remained a mystery until I started constructing his character profile.  After a mess of notebook pages and scribbling, I realized character building takes more than just pulling things out of my imagination.  I needed to grab onto something concrete in order to get a real sense of this guy’s soul.  As it turned out, music was the key to understanding him and his journey.

I started by scanning through my iTunes library and randomly listening to songs of all genres.  I asked myself what Noah would blast in his car or what he would listen to when things didn’t go his way.  As I listened, I wrote down song titles when they made me think “That’s Noah.”  It didn’t take long for a very distinct profile to emerge.  Noah was all about good ol’ rock n’ roll, grunge, and a thumping beat.  He has strong emotions that he keeps locked up, so his music had to have the same vibe.

Noah’s Playlist:

Precious Declaration – Collective Soul

Allison Road – Gin Blossoms

Waiting For The End – Linkin Park

Propehcy – Remy Zero

Iridescent – Linkin Park

Shine – Collective Soul

Unwell – Matchbox 20

Gone Missing – Maximo Park

Long Day – Matchbox 20

For What It’s Worth – Buffalo Springfield

Against the Wind – Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band

Alive – Pete Yorn

Heavy – Collective Soul

Anything by John Mellencamp and Eric Clapton

– – –

Each of the above songs helped to flush out the subtle nuances of Noah’s character regarding mood, temperament, attitude, and emotions.  On days when it was hard to find him, the music put me into his head and it helped me see things through his eyes.

Once I found songs for Noah, I looked for music that fit his story, a soundtrack of sorts.  The feel had to be similar to Noah’s Music, but it didn’t necessarily have to be something he’d crank up on the radio.  The music was more for me as his creator and narrator.  I looked for songs that lyrically told part of Noah’s story, while also encompassing his personality.  The soundtrack had to be strong enough to trigger the mindset I needed to be fully immersed in the story, even after a long day at work. Just like music creates mood and tone in film, it can do the same thing for the process of writing.

Story Soundtrack:

Angry – Matchbox 20

Life is Life – Noah & the Whale

All at Once – Pete Yorn

The Way It Is – Bruce Hornsby

Robot Boy – Linkin Park

Your Life is Now – John Mellencamp

Shadow of the Day – Linkin Park

Acoustic #3 – Goo Goo Dolls

Better Days – Goo Goo Dolls

Listen – Collective Soul

Bed of Lies – Matchbox 20

Counting Blue Cars – Dishwalla

Fake Empire – The National

Bittersweet Symphony – The Verve

– – –

While this is only a small selection, each song relates directly to major turning points in my novel. They all inspired something like a plot point, an emotional response from Noah, or a subtle shift in tone.  I’m usually a slave to outlines on large projects, so I needed a constant reminder not to be so rigid.  The music got me thinking in different directions and gave me the spirit to let Noah and his story evolve in a more organic way.

c.b. 2011